Back to the Future with Swappable Batteries for Electric Cars

Plowman Lab is an engineering research lab based at the University of California San Diego. They are dedicated to designing and making more fuel efficient vehicles. Their current project is the Modular Battery Exchange and Active Management (M-BEAM) swappable battery system, which is intended to address two of the biggest problems with electric cars: their limited range and the length of time it takes to fully recharge one. For the uninitiated, it takes several hours to fully charge an electric vehicle. In Team M-Beam's opinion, that limits the usefulness of electric vehicle (EV) chargers, simply because nobody wants to wait several hours for their car to recharge. In addition, 50% of drivers don't have access to a garage, much less one with EV chargers in it.

Lou Shrinkle, the project's founder and the inventor of M -BEAM goes so far as to call it "misleading" to liken EV chargers to gas stations. He has the refore decided to revisit the early past of electric cars. The first electric cars debuted at the tail end of the 19th century, and they also had a limited range. Various companies established battery exchange services where the owners of electric cars could go and exchange drained batteries for fully charged ones.

Shrinkle and Team M-Beam want to revive that. In the process, they've solved another problem: The size of the average car battery makes it cumbersome and hard to handle. It is also probably a reason why it takes so long to charge an electric car. Tea m M-Beam have replaced the standard large battery pack with smaller modules about the size of sh eboxes. As they see it, travellers could pull into an "exchange station" that would hypothetically also be a convenience store like a 7-Eleven and trade in old batteries for new, fully charged ones. Swapping batteries would take less time than charging.

Team M-Beam has decided to test their invention. The group retrofitted a 2002 Volkswagen and powered it with 16 modular battery systems, each of which can take the car 100 to 120 miles per charge. In October, the car will embark on a cross-country trip from San Diego To Jacksonville, Florida, a journey of 2400 miles. The car will be accompanied by vehicles carrying fresh batteries and charging gear, and they will act as the ex change station.

We would not have been able to do much of this research without the help from the junk car buying division at Milano’s providing us with used batteries. All of us at Plowman would also like to whole heartedly thank Auto Zone for donating many of the auto parts we needed to conduct our experiments.